Two federal IT employees were honored on Wednesday evening for their efforts to promote information sharing across the intelligence community through the development and implementation of Intellipedia, a Wikipedia-like clearinghouse of intelligence experience.
The CIA's Don Burke, Intellipedia doyen, and Sean Dennehy, Intellipedia evangelist, were awarded with the Homeland Security Medal as part of the eighth annual Service to America Medals run by the Partnership for Public Service. The pair unveiled Intellipedia, which enables security-cleared analysts across the 16 intelligence agencies to search, share and edit information through a classified Intranet site, in 2006. The platform has since grown into a library of valuable intelligence information, with more than 900,000 pages and 100,000 user accounts.
Wired Workplace spoke with Burke and Dennehy on Monday about Intellipedia, the generational divide and Web 2.0 efforts across government.
A paper written by D. Calvin Andrus called "The Wiki and the Blog: Toward a Complex Adaptive Intelligence Community," and a corresponding discussion by the author to a group of intelligence analysts is really what sparked the idea for Intellipedia, Dennehy said. "Because of the way the IC had evolved over the years, we were always answering today's mail," he said. "We produce a lot of documents, but it's difficult to go back and figure out what we knew on a certain day ... and at least be able to see who was contributing and touch base with them."
The value of Intellipedia, Burke added, is not entirely about the concrete successes it has facilitated, but rather it's ability to produce "a thousand small winds a day," meaning the small successes that come about as a result of analysts sharing information across the 16 intelligence agencies around the world. "This whole new world of information has opened up the intelligence community, when the only thing present was on officially vetted Web sites where you had to go through ten levels of management to get to it," Burke said.
Still, Burke and Dennehy added, Intellipedia is still in its early stages, with most of its contributors generally the "early adopters," or mid-level analysts who have some clout in the organization. "What we've seen with the younger workforce is their main goals are to fit in, to make sure they're doing what their bosses want them to do," Burke said. "We always reinforce how little this is about generational issues and how much of it is about people who've been in the organization long enough to see that there's a better way to work."
The key to fully changing the culture within the community, Burke added, will be changing the current incentives to ensure analysts are rewarded for collaborative behavior, rather than individual production. "When we look at the challenges of these tools, they're really at a severe disadvantage because the culture, incentives and structures are all around individual production," he said.
For other federal agencies looking to adopt Web 2.0 tools, Burke and Dennehy emphasized the importance of starting small and keeping such tools open to the largest group possible. Government leaders also should realize the value of Web 2.0 is more about changing the culture of an organization than it is about a specific technology. "You have to be able to incentivize and reward people for using these tools," Dennehy said. "If you don't send a message that's consistent with using these tools, people are going to continue to just share information back and forth."
Visit servicetoamericamedals.org for more information about this year's Service to America Medal winners.